Do you have accidental employees? Maybe you even are one and don’t know it!
Take a look over your employee base, your team; do you see any people that found themselves in a job you wouldn’t normally put them and they may not normally put themselves?
As a business grows it needs its people to do things that they might not naturally be good at. Adam, our protagonist, has been growing his nursery business for a few years now, producing primarily cucumbers and tomatoes. He’s at a critical spot where he thinks he needs to grow further, perhaps by adding more greenhouse space but is finding cash flow a problem. Adam’s bookkeeper is his long-time mother-in-law! She charges peanuts and ensures the year-end figures get to the accountant nearly on-time, and partly accurate.
She started out helping Adam with planting and harvesting and she has a keen eye for how to arrange the system. Then when the business started to work she volunteered to do the bookkeeping because lets face it, someone has to. The data isn’t in the cloud, it isn’t real-time, and because she never learned anything about management accounting she really can’t offer Adam much advice about how big to grow, how fast, or how to impact his cash flow so he can present some lenders with a proposal. Sometimes they get frustrated with each other because Adam expects more than she can provide, and she can’t read his mind, so she is unsure what Adam is thinking. He doesn’t communicate well. This was fine for a while but is getting tiring now.
Adam’s mother-in-law has become an accidental employee. She’s in a spot by accident and now it’s causing issues. Many business owners, when faced with this exact scenario (which we’ve seen many times repeated), struggle to break through that ceiling and find people who aren’t there just by accident. They are there on purpose. Here are a couple of reasons why, and what Adam did:
Often we shy away from difficult conversations, especially when it involves those we care about. But that isn’t fair to either person. Creating transparency and openness is key to all relationships; it’s something many of us just need to practice more. There are many books and resources to help you begin having those crucial conversations more effectively.
Adam’s mother-in-law likely doesn’t feel great about not being able to provide Adam the data he needs. She wants to help, is a great person. She doesn’t want to be an accidental employee but doesn’t know what to do about it. Adam opens the conversation so they can begin to explore a solution.
Adam doesn’t know what he needs
As a growing business owner or entrepreneur, there are scenarios you run into that you just have never experienced before. This is part of life, right? We experience new things, new places, new ideas; and then we apply those in future settings and circumstances. Business is no different. You can learn from books, from teachers, from mentors (and yes you should have those), and yet until you’ve applied it in real life something is missing.
The reasons why businesses fail can be because we weren’t willing to take a risk and learn something new, or we haven’t learned from past mistakes and applied to the now. Just search “proverbs about repeating mistakes” and you’ll quickly learn what the wise-people think about doing the same wrong thing over again.
More importantly here, Adam needs to find some strategic help in organizing his plans. Maybe he can connect with other business owners to seek advice or maybe he has a good network of professionals that can help. The second option may cost him some money, the first may cost him some time. But not doing either cost him way more because he’s missing out on what could be. Adam looks for some help to set strategy and give him some business systems to work with.
Adam doesn’t know what a “Right” employee is
When we dig into strategic and leadership issues in a business, I typically find that there is uncertainty about who should be there at all. There are countless companies with employees that “grew up with” the organization and don’t know any other way. Some once filled a specific role, like Adam’s mother-in-law, but have slowly morphed into other areas where they don’t naturally fit. Someone had to do it, and so someone did.
My “Right” employee conversations always go back to this idea that each business has a type of team member that fits exactly into the culture, matching core values, and wanting to achieve the vision. Adam’s mother-in-law may be the right person; she wants to help and is passionate about the product. What else could be wrong?
Adam looks at the actual job he’s asked her to do. He realizes that what she likes is the greenhouse work, doing the books only because no one else has stepped up. She realizes this too and when they talk about it, she gets excited about getting back to the things she gets and wants to do. Adam relieves mother-in-law from her numbers duties.
The story doesn’t always end so nicely. Sometimes mother-in-law needs to find a new place to work because the business has outgrown her skill set. Sometimes Adam didn’t train her well enough to keep up with the growth. Sometimes there already is a person doing the job that she loves to do, and Adam doesn’t need two of them. In these cases, and many others that don’t end up with happy endings, one thing remains true to me:
A successful business or entrepreneur needs to acknowledge their accidental employees and create room for employees on purpose. The results will be more fun, better impact, and certainly more fulfilled people.